Kindness Clubs grew into the Ghana SPCA
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2006:
Kindness Clubs grew into the Ghana SPCA
by Debra J. White
Scraggly dogs and hungry cats foraging on the crowded streets
of Kumasi tugged at schoolteacher Roland Azantilow’s heart. Besides
his love for children, including his own three, Azantilow was
always fondness of animals. Indifference to animal mistreatment
troubled him. There were no private or public agencies that helped
animals in distress.
Born and raised in Ghana, Azanti-low was educated at the
Technical Teachers Training Institute, Madras Southern Region, in
Chennai, India. Chennai is headquarters of the Animal Welfare Board
of India, and of the Blue Cross of India, one of the most
influential humane societies in Asia, but “I never had any contact
with anybody in animal welfare,” Azantilow recalls. He did,
however, take a course about animal welfare.
In April 2004, after 22 years of teaching, Azantilow formed
the Ghana SPCA, with technical assistance and limited financial
support from the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
“The Ghana SPCA is an outgrowth of the WSPA Kindness Clubs,”
chairperson David Nyoagbe explained in the February 2005 first-ever
Ghana SPCA newsletter. “Schoolchildren of any age can start a club.
Three times a year they receive newsletters from WSPA. We now have
over 200 Kindness Clubs all over Ghana,” Nyoabe said. “Some have
been active for over ten years.
“Our main focus is raising awareness about animal welfare,”
Nyoagbe said, but the all-volunteer Ghana SPCA also helps unwanted,
sick and injured animals in both Kumasi and Accra, the two largest
Ghanian cities, and assists the animals offered for sale at the
Accra Puppy Market.
“Most of the vendors try to take good care of the puppies
they sell. Some of the pups have even seen a vet and have their
vaccination certificates,” wrote Ghana SPCA newsletter editor Karen
Menczer, after joining a recent puppy market visit. “Some vendors
are fairly knowledgeable about puppies and their requirements,”
added Menczer, who is an American–and longtime ANIMAL PEOPLE
reader–who previously helped humane societies in Uganda and Botswana.
“The vendors bathe the dogs and take some out for walks,”
Menczer continued. “But since the puppies are really there for only
one reason, to make money for the vendors, they are not treated as
they would be in a permanent home. They could all use attention,
food, and water. The day we visited, we held the puppies, played
with them, and fed and watered them. All the pups, having already
been in the sun all morning were very, very thirsty.”
“In Ghana we don’t see many stray dogs and cats,” Azantilow
told Menczer. “Most of the dogs and cats have owners. The real
problem isn’t the stray dogs and cats, but that the owners might not
know how to care for them, or might not have the money to provide
good care. But many Ghanaians do keep pets at their homes.”
Some dogs are eaten or used in animist rituals in parts of
Ghana, where about a third of the people practice indigenous faiths.
Occasionally dogs are poisoned, stoned, or beaten from fear
of rabies, a constant threat in Ghana, as in most hot climates
where vaccines are scarce, costly, and often unreliable due to lack
“Rabies is considered a public health problem in many areas,”
advises <www.travmed.com>, founded in 1989 by International Travel
Health Guide author Stuart R. Rose, M.D. “There is a high incidence
of dog rabies,” the site continues, “with frequent human cases
reported. All animal bites or scratches, especially from a dog,
should be taken seriously.”
Among the most recent U.S. human rabies cases was a
54-year-old male Ghanian, who died on a visit to New York City.
But current rabies advisories are somewhat more optimistic
than the 1975 analysis of D.W. Belcher, F.K. Wurapa, and D.O.
Atuora, in a paper entitled Endemic rabies in Ghana: Epidemiology
and control measures.
“Rabies is well established in Accra,” they wrote, “and
there has been no decline in canine or human cases during the past
five years. In the first six months of 1975, canine cases almost
doubled.” Belcher, Wurapa, and Atuora urged “improved educational
and post-dog bite services,” describing “problems with logistics,
canine vaccine shortage and failures, lack of owner cooperation,
and control of a large stray dog population.”
To that point, the few Ghanian veterinarians rarely treated
animals other than livestock and those used for work.
A decade later, the rabies risk had decreased, but was
still high by global norms.
“Despite yearly vaccination programs for dogs and humans at
risk, begun in 1977, the incidence of rabies is still high,” D.O.
Alonge and S.A. Abu reported in the June 1984 edition of the
International Journal of Zoonosis. “A total of 752 canine and 102
human rabies cases were reported and confirmed,” 1977-1981.
Alonge and Abu called for “a nationwide effort to control,
if not erradicate, the disease by mass vaccination of dogs.”
“We should provide free or subsidized spay and neuter in poor
communities, educate people about rabies, and provide rabies
inoculation where vet services are not easily accessible,” Azantilow
told Menczer. “And of course, the Ghana SPCA should continue to
educate children about animal welfare.”
Sterilizations are now underway, said the March 2006 Ghana
SPCA newsletter. “WSPA has approved a Ghana SPCA request to transfer
half of the funds [granted for] the puppy market project into a
spay/neuter fund,” Menczer wrote. “We will sterilize dogs and cats
of low-income or no-income families in and around Accra and Kumasi.”
The Ghana SPCA is also currently at the forefront of
vigilance against the anticipated arrival of avian influenza H5N1,
which has already hit nearby Nigeria and Niger.
“Livestock transport is a big problem,” Azantilow says.
“Animals are transported from the north to other parts of the
country, over 300 kilometres sometimes, on the roofs of vehicles and
in car boots [trunks]. We need to act with the police and the
regional veterinary services to curb the use of passenger vehicles
and other inhumane means of transport.
“Slaughter is [also] a problem,” Azantilow continues,
“especially outside of Accra and Kumasi, where they still mostly use
crude methods. I think the Ghana SPCA should be able to work with
local authorities to acquire stunners for the slaughterhouses.”
Ghana is prosperous compared to most African countries, with a
constitutional democracy, abundant mineral wealth, and about twice
the per capita economic output of other West African nations, yet
31% of the human population live in poverty. Unemploy-ment hovers
around 20%. About 30,000 people per year die from AIDS.
The 1892 British Empire humane law may technically still
exist on paper to protect animals, inherited from colonial times,
but it has not been enforced since the British left in 1957–if it
ever was. Many former British colonies left functioning humane
societies, but ANIMAL PEOPLE found no record that any were founded
Active animal-related law enforcement tends to be limited to
doing what is necessary to comply with the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species, funded by foreign
Friends of Animals, for example, gave Ghana a custom-built
spotter plane in 1997, for use in anti-poaching work. FoA also
built a 162-acre chimpanzee sanctuary on Konklobi Island in Ghana,
but was never able to get permission to send chimps to it because of
concern raised by political opponents that the chimps might introduce
diseases transmissible to wildlife and human neighbors. FoA
suspended efforts to work at Konklobi in 2002.
Though the colonial era ended long ago, European economic
exploitation continues to have an effect. European vessels fishing
off West Africa increased their annual catch 20-fold from 1950 to
2001, while fishing subsidies rose nearly 60-fold just from 1980 to
2001. Soaring fishing pressure coincided with population collapses
of elephants, hippos, bongo antelope, colubus monkeys, and
“almost the whole suite of large carnivores– wild dog, lion,
hyena, and leopard” in Ghanian wildlife reserves, University of
California at Berkeley and Cambridge University researcher Justin
Brashares reported in Science in 2004. “People turned to bushmeat
when fish became unavailable.”
“If you cannot feed your family, how great a priority is
animal welfare?” rhetorically asks fundraiser and publicist Heather
Cowie, of the Animal Anti-Cruelty League in South Africa, whose
work involves confronting comparable conflicts.
“Unsustainable hunting for bushmeat is a huge problem,”
Azantilow admits. But he sees the potential for change as enormous.
“Our work is beginning to have an impact, especially among the
children,” he believes. “They are our future and with them, there
Aware that U.S. and European scholars have demonstrated the
association of animal abuse with child abuse, Azanti-low hopes that
as the Ghana SPCA grows, it will attract funding for humane
education on an even more ambitious scale.
“I would like to see the Kindness Clubs and the children
trained in our animal welfare certificate course linked to senior
secondary level” schooling, Azantilow outlines. “Older children
could serve as volunteer inspectors and humane educators. While
educating people about animal care, the group could also help raise
the visibility of the Ghana SPCA by sponsoring a Ghana SPCA Day or
other events with animal themes. If we have the proper equipment,”
Azantilow adds, “the group could help us create documentaries about
animal care, and could use video to help educate.”
Illustrating the potential, Azantilow in October 2004
presented World Animal Week in Kumasi. “We organized talks on animal
handling and held a heavily attended free rural animal clinic 40
kilometers outside Kumasi, where we treated over 1,500 animals,
including sheep, goats, dogs, and cats,” Azantilow recounts. The
Ghana SPCA demonstrated dog and cat sterilization, goat de-worming,
vaccinating cats against rabies, and protecting birds against
Newcastle disease. Azantilow and Ghana SPCA associates also lectured
the audience about proper animal care and kindness to all living
creatures. “Children went on a ride through the streets and sang
songs about animals,” Azantilow said. “Everyone seemed to have a
good time. I think they learned valuable lessons.”
Under Azantilow’s guidance, Ghana SPCA representatives are
now visiting rural areas. They hold animal wellness clinics and
organize Kindness Clubs.
“It is important to get the message around our entire
country, not just in the cities,” Azantilow explains.
“Children who learn kindness to animals grow up to be more
compassionate adults. That will help make this a better world,”
says Azantilow. “I love my country and my people, but sometimes
they are stubborn and need to show more concern about the plight of
animals. Animals are part of our world too.”
Testifies WSPA consultant Dipesh Pabari, of Kenya, “The Ghana SPCA
is grounding itself as an organization which I believe has a great
future ahead of it.”
“We have not developed into a safe haven for all homeless
animals, but that is our ultimate goal,” Azantilow says. “Our
membership drive is slow, but still evolving, and we attract more
supporters all the time. Naturally, we need more funding and we
will keep looking for new sources.”
[Additional research was provided by ANIMAL PEOPLE staff.]